Warren Ellis wrote a small item on his Whitechapel site about the price of comic books (after the observation that, for the first time, there are more $3.99 comics than $2.99 in the Diamond Top 300). He notes that all his books at Avatar were $3.99 but now that is the norm, and that comics have to work harder to be owned.
I understand what he’s getting at: it is something that has influenced my decisions about buying comic books. I refuse to buy ongoing comic book series from the two big companies that cost $3.99 that are simply normal-sized issues. I only buy ongoing series at that price if they have extra material, such as ‘second features’ (e.g. the erstwhile The Incredible Hercules with the back-up Agents of Atlas strip, Detective Comics with The Question back-up strip). This means that I stopped buying New Avengers and switched to the trade paperbacks.
The $3.99 price (£2.90 in proper money) is too high – the only justification was if the book was from the independents, such as Avatar, because they don’t have the capability to keep their costs down compared with the big companies. Bizarrely, other ‘smaller’ companies are able to keep prices down – I buy Buffy the Vampire Slayer from Dark Horse for $2.99, The Boys from Dynamite for the same price – so I’m not sure how that works. If people wonder why everyone is waiting for the trades, you don’t have to think too hard to look for an answer (especially when the Amazon discount factor is added in). A satisfactory chunk of comics for a decent price, even if it’s some time after the individual issues came out, is difficult to beat; why pay extra for adverts, a flimsy package and the fact that it’s just come out?
I was thinking about it the other day as I was leafing through film magazines in the newsagent. I no longer buy them for a variety of reasons, but one of the reasons was the price. I couldn’t justify spending over three pounds a month on a magazine, which is about one hundred pages (admittedly with adverts), a substantial package compared with a 32-page comic book that rarely tells a complete story in one issue. It suddenly hit me that I wasn’t buying film magazines that are costing just a little more than comic books – what sort of world is that?
I don’t have the answers for the economics of comic books, especially as we enter a digital age (yeah, because everyone can afford an iPhone or an iPad …), and I certainly don’t begrudge creators the money. However, I don’t want to pay the same price for a comic book as a magazine, and I can’t see how the comic companies can justify it and sustain it. I know that I’ve cut down the number of books I buy as much as possible because of the price now, and I find it hard to try out new books because I can’t afford them. As a fan of comic books, that saddens me; I want to be able to support the medium but I can’t. And it’s not going to get any better any time soon.